Tragic circumstances blended early Wednesday morning when a fire tore through the tiny basement apartment in West Quincy, killing a father and his two infant sons. The man’s wife, who firefighters rescued from the toxic smoke, was critically injured, fire officials said. The “illegal” apartment had no smoke detectors. The building’s central fire alarm was turned off and silent. City inspectors planned to conduct a surprise inspection at the home on Friday.
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The apartment had no smoke detectors. The building had six units, but only four were legal. And its central fire alarm was turned off and silent. Suspecting something was wrong, city inspectors had planned a surprise inspection of the home on Friday.
But not before a fire tore through the tiny basement apartment in West Quincy on Wednesday, killing a father and his two infant sons. The man’s wife, who firefighters rescued from the toxic smoke, was critically injured, fire officials said.
Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating’s office is investigating whether code violations at 100 Robertson St. warrant criminal charges against the home’s owner.
Authorities have not identified the victims, but friends and work colleagues said the man killed was Oudah Frawi, who they believed to be in his 40s. They identified his sons as Ali, 1, and Hussein, 2 months old. The wife’s identity was not immediately clear.
Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said at an afternoon press conference that it appears the fire started on a living room sofa. But he added that the official cause “will remain undetermined” until autopsies are performed and the woman – if she is able – is interviewed.
The city’s Illegal Rooming House Task Force was set to inspect the property in two days, according to Inspectional Services Director Jay Duca. Earlier this month, he said, a health inspector discovered an illegal apartment in the attic while responding to a heating complaint by one of the tenants.
In a letter dated March 10, Building Inspector Kathleen Nugent warned the owners, Andy Huang and Jinny Xiu Ma, they could face legal trouble if the code violations weren’t addressed. The couple could not be reached Wednesday by the Patriot Ledger.
Coan told reporters that the investigation is ongoing, adding “we’re not drawing a conclusion at this time.”
But he also said that it appeared that two of the six units in the building were illegal. Authorities said they found six apartments in the 21/2 story colonial, which was only permitted for four.
Coan said the building did have a hard-wired fire alarm in the hallway and stairwells, but that it had been turned off. More than one apartment had no working smoke detectors, he said, and none were found in the basement apartment.
The fire was reported just after 3 a.m. Wednesday. Acting Quincy Fire Chief Joseph Barron said firefighters were met with heavy smoke and fire and had difficultly getting into the basement.
“We had crews searching aggressively through the whole building,” Barron said, commending his team for doing an “outstanding job” evacuating tenants, rescuing the woman, and quickly knocking down the fire.
“It’s certainly extremely tragic,” Barron said. “It will be with us for a long time.”
Mostafa Oubtrou, who lived upstairs, said he awoke when his wife smelled smoke. The couple rushed their two daughters downstairs in their pajamas, and Oubtrou said he called 911 and pounded loudly on Frawi’s door when he saw smoke pour out from beneath.
“I feel sorry. It was painful, very painful,” he said.
Mohammed Rhemmes said the smoke detector in his first-floor apartment is broken and that he had spoken to the owner about fixing or replacing it.
“If the smoke detector was working right, nobody (would) be dead today,” he said.
The American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay is providing clothing, food and lodging for 13 people displaced by the fire, a spokeswoman said.
The fire comes a week after Barron announced the fire department was restricting use of its Ladder 2 truck, which serves the neighborhood, during shifts with low manpower.
Ladder 2 was in service and responded to the fire Wednesday, said Ernest Arienti, president of the Quincy firefighters union.
“I’ll tell you, it almost felt like deja vu,” Arienti said. “It would have been just like 1991 all over again.”
The last triple-fatal fire in the city happened that year in Houghs Neck, Arienti said, shortly after the city downsized from five to three ladder companies.
John P. Kelly may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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